Ornamental grasses for Florida

Muhley Grass, a Florida native

Ornamental grasses are a great addition to any landscape. There are many grasses available, but some perform better in our area than others. Over the years, I have tried and tested several varieties and have learned which are the best and easiest grasses to grow. There are many other grasses that I have never grown, and I would love to hear from other gardeners about their experiences.
The following is a small sampling of some of the ornamental grasses that I have found will do well in Florida.

Muhley Grass ( Muhlenbergi capillaris) – This native grass grows 1 to 3 feet tall and has pink plumes in the fall. It can be seen on SR 100 in Flagler Beach and on I-95 by the 11th street overpass in Daytona Beach. This grass performs great in poor sandy soil and is tolerant of salt, drought and cold.

Sand Cord Grass ( Spartina bakeri) Another native, this grass produces large dense rounded clumps 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. It is found in moist locations but will also grow in dry and salty areas as well. This grass can be seen growing at many area golf courses. Because of its large size, this plant looks good planted in masses. A dwarf form, growing about 2 to 3 feet tall, is also available.

Fakahatchee Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) This is one of the prettiest native grasses and has dark green arching leaves. It gets very large, about 4 to 6 feet tall and wide and grows in sun to part shade. Although drought tolerant, this grass is not salt tolerant. It likes a rich damp, well-drained soil, but will tolerate most soil conditions. It produces red-brown spikes at the top of tall nodding stems. A dwarf form, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and wide is also available.

Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) – A great choice for those living on the beachside, Sea Oats is a fantastic plant for erosion control and dune establishment. It has decorative tan, wheat-like nodding seed heads, and grows 3 to 6 feet tall. It can handle all the harsh elements of the beachside such as wind, salt and poor dry soil.

Pampas Grass ( Cortaderia selloana) – One of the largest ornamental grasses, Pampas Grass quickly grows 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. It has very beautiful showy white plumes and has a high drought tolerance and moderate salt tolerance. The worst thing about it is its razor-sharp leave edges, so be careful when you are working around it. Give it plenty of room when you plant it and keep it away from driveways and walkways. A pink variety and dwarf form are also available, as well as a variety that is variegated called Silver Comet.

Red Fountain Grass ( Pennisetum setaceum) – This grass is a very pretty burgundy color, with burgundy plumes as well. Burgundy Giant grows 4 to 6 feet all, Rubrum grows 3 to 4 feet tall and Rubrum Compact grows 1 to 2 feet tall. It has a medium drought tolerance and low salt tolerance. 25 degrees kills this grass to the ground, so it’s best to consider this one an annual. This is a great plant to use in a container, as a specimen or in masses.

Lemon Grass ( Cymbopogon citratus) This fast growing clumping grass has narrow lemon scented leaves about 2 to 3 feet long. It is used in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Bamboo Muhley (Muhlenbergia dumosa) A very unusual-looking grass, this plant has multiple stalks that resemble bamboo. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall, has a weeping habit and is very fine and wispy in texture. It is a tough plant and loves the heat.

If you want to add beauty and grace to your garden, and need plants that are low-maintenance, ornamental grasses can’t be beat. Try a few in your garden, and pretty soon you will be making room for more.

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